As this is the time of year that many people start making their New Year’s resolutions – personal and professional – I thought I’d share some of the best career management tips I know. Some of these I learned from others and some I learned the hard way. In any case, here goes:
- Do whatever Irene tells you to do and don’t embarrass me. This one comes courtesy of my father. My first job was doing the payroll, manually, at his codfish processing plant in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. (Photo is my family in the harbor in front of that plant last summer). Irene was the long time office manager who knew how to make things happen. Getting to know the Irenes everywhere I’ve worked since has saved me time and embarrassment.
- Speak up. This one applies when you have a good idea and/or when you know that something just isn’t right. Organizations rise and fall on the quality and openness of communications between people.
- Assertions absent data are just your opinion. This is a corollary to #2. If you want to promote your idea, you need to be able to substantiate its merit with objective data.
- The workplace is different for women. Even as organizations have welcomed women into the workforce in the last 30 years, the realities of childbearing and rearing can still throw them for a loop when it comes to contemplating alternative career paths and flexible work options. The world has come a long way since 1985 – when my then employer asked me to sign a letter committing that I wouldn’t get pregnant. See this article in yesterday’s New York Times regarding what organizations are doing to provide more flexibility for workers.
- The company’s money is the company’s money. In the interest of encouraging employees to be frugal, companies often exhort them to “treat the company’s money like it’s your own”. This seems to confuse some people – whose behavior can lead you to believe that they must live like sultans from Dubai on their own time. Don’t waste company resources and don’t play games with your expenses. If you need a history lesson on this one, think Enron.
- There is power in silence. This is a thesis topic in its own right. Relationships and careers get derailed when things are said in anger, ignorance, or just because the speaker decided to keep talking while s/he shouldn’t have. Keeping your mouth shut at the right times gives you time to think.
- Email is both friend and foe. I’m old enough to remember the workplace pre-email. It’s a fantastic tool for conveying information and agreements quickly to lots of people. The dark side of this ease of use is how much workplace productivity is sacrificed to individuals coping with volumes of email that get in the way of “real work”. It’s a rotten tool for negotiating agreements. And it makes it way too easy to communicate something in haste that you’ll regret later. In 2008, make a promise to yourself to pick up the phone or walk down the hall more frequently.
- Selling is the most important skill of all. The years I spent as a sales rep were among the most valuable of my career. Planning and persuasion are key to success in sales – and in business in general. I don’t care what your functional expertise is. If you can’t persuade others to take action, your own success will be limited.
- Management has its ups and downs. This one could also be called “be careful what you wish for”. It’s great to manage a team of capable, creative and motivated people (as I do now). However, as your responsibilities, compensation, and access to information increase, so does your risk. Your mistakes become more costly and visible and the time you need to invest in doing a good job increases. You have to make tough decisions that can lead to unemployment for people you care about. Not everyone can or should be a manager. Organizations need to continue to find ways to retain highly talented individual performers whose goals don’t (or shouldn’t) include people management.
- Keep your job in perspective. This one isn’t always easy, but is probably the most important of all. Jobs have their ups and downs. Organizations do, too. Be respectful of other people, work hard while you’re at work, don’t be defensive in the face of obstacles, and when you go home, shut the door on the workplace. Much is written about how organizations can help promote work life balance. Ultimately, though, only you can define and protect the work-life boundaries that work for you. If you can’t honor that balance in your current job situation, then it’s up to you to find one that will work for you.
That’s it for my top ten career advice tips. What would you add to the list?2